From BOA to Blast! stage: how the Honor Band of America shaped life-long connections

By: Jonathon Almond

An empty computer screen is pretty intimidating. When I was asked to write about my experiences with Bands of America, I thought, “Sure, how easy is that.”  Little did I realize how difficult it would be to put into words all the positive effects Bands of America has had on my life.  I suppose I should start with a brief introduction.  My name is Jonathan Almond and I’m one of the French Horn players in the touring cast of the Tony and Emmy Award winning Broadway show, “Blast!” I love the fact that I can throw in that “award-winning” stuff, not to toot our own horn (so to speak), but because it never ceases to amaze me how accepted our art form has become.  But I digress.

Six years before I was shaking my hips on stage every night with Blast!  I was sitting in the 1996 BOA Honor Band of America.  It was actually by chance that I auditioned at all.  Earlier that year I found a photocopy of a BOA Honor Band audition form at a District Band event.  It was crumpled on the floor and intended for someone else, but I made a tape and sent it off.  A few months later I was flying to Chicago for what would become one of the highlights of my high school music career.  Just as a side note, when I arrived in Chicago, BOA had sent a white stretch limousine to take myself and the two other Honor Band members on my flight to the hotel.  It was the first time and, now that I think about it, the only time I’ve been in a limo (thanks BOA).  I can remember being totally overwhelmed by the talent that BOA had assembled for that ensemble.  Working with Tony Maiello, whose reputation at George Mason University was well known in my hometown of Virginia Beach, was truly an honor.  Ironically, a few days after the HBOA concert in Chicago, Maiello and his Wind Ensemble from George Mason presented a concert in Virginia Beach that my high school attended. Afterwards, I timidly approached the podium to thank him for his work with the Honor Band just days earlier.  We spent the next twenty minutes reminiscing about how wonderful the experience was. I was actually fortunate enough to play for him again the next year in a Regional Orchestra.

Twelve short months after my first experience with BOA, I found myself in the 1997 Honor Band, this time in Indianapolis under the baton of the Indiana University legend, Ray Cramer.  I could write for days about that weekend and all the lifelong friendships I formed, but I shall try and condense it into a few brief paragraphs. One of the great things about the Honor Band is that BOA commissions a well-respected composer to write a piece for the Honor Band to premiere at the National Concert Band Festival. In 1997, that piece was “Whatsoever things…” by Mark Camphouse. “Whatsoever things…” was written in memory of John P. Paynter, longtime director of bands at Northwestern University, of which Mark Camphouse and now even myself are alumni.  Paynter’s wife and children were at the wellreceived premiere and the performance had an emotional impact on both the performers and audience alike.  While I was at Northwestern, our Wind Ensemble actually recorded “Whatsoever things…” on a CD in memory of John Paynter. It was hard to leave all the new friends I’d made that weekend (some of which had been in the Honor Band the year before as well), but the anticipation of what was to come made the good-byes a little easier.

In July of that year, just after I’d graduated from high school, about two thirds of that 1997 Honor Band came back together with Ray Cramer for a two-week tour of Europe. The tour covered France, Germany, the Netherlands, and culminated in a performance at the WASBE Conference in Schladming, Austria.  The memories of that trip are endless: the unbelievable acoustics of the church in Paris for our first concert; the 4th of July performance with people dancing in the aisles; the sunset in Saltzburg; the ovation in Schladming.  Of course there was also the gentlemen selling crepes on the street; learning to get around on on public transportation; the first time having caviar; and staying up all night talking about how lucky we were to be there.  I don’t think it was until we got back to the United States that we realized what we had actually been a part of.

As amazing as the musical experiences were with the Honor Bands over the years, equally amazing were the friendships I formed.  Several of us from those two years in the Honor Band ended up at Northwestern University and became some of my closest friends.  One of the trumpet players from the 1997 Honor Band and European Tour, Cameron Harder, is also in Blast! We actually hadn’t really met until we both started with the show.  One day while we were stretching before rehearsal we were talking about various people we knew from high school and it just so happened we had lots of mutual friends through that tour of Europe. Another performer in Blast!, DJ Corchin, actually played on one piece in the 1997 Honor Band concert, but I didn’t officially meet him until we were both on Team SWAG at the BOA Summer Symposium in 2000.  It was there that I also met other future Blast! performers Matt Banks and Tim Tuite.

One of the great things about being in Blast! and traveling around the country is that I’m always running into other BOA alumni.  It’s always wonderful to come out into the audience after a show and see a friend from the Europe tour that I haven’t talked to in a while or recognize a student from my days as a SWAG.  Hearing about the accomplishments of fellow HBOA alumni reaffirms my beliefs that BOA is doing a wonderful thing with the Honor Band program. Whether it’s finishing student teaching and starting a career as a band director (Jennifer Renner, HBOA ‘97), or playing lead alto sax in the University of North Texas 1 o’clock Jazz Band (Wil Swindler, HBOA ’97), or returning to Europe to study in Berlin (Julie Dawson, HBOA ’97), I know I’ll always have friends across the country and, possible the world, from my experiences with Bands of America. Jon Almond can be reached at